Bill Nye, the white guy: Po­lit­i­cal agen­das slip into March for Sci­ence

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

An early in­di­ca­tion that next week’s March for Sci­ence may be more about pol­i­tics than the pe­ri­odic ta­ble is the brouhaha over Bill Nye, the Sci­ence Guy.

Mr. Nye’s selec­tion as hon­orary co-chair­man raised hack­les not be­cause he is ar­guably not a sci­en­tist — he holds a bach­e­lor of sci­ence de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing — but be­cause he is a white male, ig­nit­ing a pro­tracted, fu­ri­ous de­bate on race, gen­der and “priv­i­lege.”

March for Sci­ence or­ga­niz­ers ul­ti­mately named three co-chairs, Mr. Nye and two women — pe­di­a­tri­cian Mona Hanna-At­tisha and bi­ol­o­gist Ly­dia Villa-Ko­maroff — while drop­ping any pre­tense that the April 22 protest tar­get­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is po­lit­i­cally neu­tral.

That ar­gu­ment was prov­ing to be a tough sell, any­way, given that the event’s part­ners in­clude Nex­tGen Cli­mate, funded by top Demo­cratic Party donor Tom Steyer, as well as a host of cli­mate change groups and la­bor unions.

“It was a mis­take to ever im­ply that the March for Sci­ence is apo­lit­i­cal — while this march is ex­plic­itly non­par­ti­san, it is po­lit­i­cal,” said the march’s state­ment on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion.

That clear tilt to the left has

other sci­en­tists as well as sci­ence boost­ers wor­ried that the march will drag le­git­i­mate sci­en­tific in­quiry into the po­lit­i­cal mud in an ef­fort to “use the man­tle of sci­ence to gain au­thor­ity for one point of view,” said Wes­ley J. Smith, se­nior fel­low at the Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute.

“This manta ‘sci­ence,’ I mean, who’s against the sci­en­tific method? I don’t know any­body who’s against the sci­en­tific method. I don’t know any­body who doesn’t be­lieve in sci­ence or who isn’t pro-sci­ence,” said Mr. Smith.

In this case, he said, “you’re re­ally not march­ing for sci­ence; you’re march­ing for a po­lit­i­cal agenda.”

The march, which co­in­cides with Earth Day, will hold its flag­ship event in Wash­ing­ton as well as 400 co­or­di­nated events world­wide, draw­ing com­par­isons to the Jan. 21 Women’s March against Pres­i­dent Trump, which drew mil­lions world­wide.

Caro­line Weinberg, na­tional cochair­woman, warned Mon­day that “ev­i­dence-based poli­cies are un­der at­tack.”

“Pol­i­cy­mak­ers threaten our present and fu­ture by ig­nor­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence when craft­ing pol­icy, threat­en­ing sci­en­tific ad­vance­ment through bud­get cuts and lim­it­ing the pub­lic’s knowl­edge by si­lenc­ing sci­en­tists,” she said in a state­ment.

While the march has drawn the en­dorse­ment of groups such as the Amer­i­can Geo­phys­i­cal Union and En­to­mo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Amer­ica, it’s the more ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal groups that have some sci­en­tists wor­ried.

Among the march’s part­ners are the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, whose agenda in­cludes fight­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, and the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, which op­poses GMOs and nu­clear power, prompt­ing the Mad Virol­o­gist’s Alma G. Laney to say he would not par­tic­i­pate.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly sad to see a group that pur­ports to be stand­ing up for all sci­ence to will­ingly part­ner with groups that are anti-sci­ence or hold anti-sci­ence po­si­tions,” said Mr. Laney, a plant bi­ol­o­gist.

“Although there are many other part­ners that ac­tively pro­mote all sci­ence and I do be­lieve that it’s im­por­tant for sci­en­tists to speak, I don’t want to add cred­i­bil­ity to anti-sci­ence rhetoric be­cause, let’s face it, they are go­ing to use part­ner­ing with the march to am­plify their own anti-sci­ence mes­sages. I just can’t be a party to that,” he said.

Also stay­ing home is Pa­trick J. Michaels, a cli­mate sci­en­tist and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Sci­ence at the Cato In­sti­tute.

The march has fo­cused on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­ported plans to cut the bud­gets of fed­eral health and sci­ence agen­cies as well as re­search grants to uni­ver­si­ties, but Mr. Michaels said the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity has other se­ri­ous prob­lems, namely re­search that can­not be repli­cated.

“In or­der to pro­duce a de­sired re­sult, there is now an epi­demic of stud­ies that can­not be repli­cated and poor ex­per­i­men­tal de­sign,” said Mr. Michaels. “The cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion will come and go, but the prob­lems plagu­ing sci­ence will re­main un­less sci­en­tists de­mand changes that will right the cur­rently founder­ing ship of sci­ence.”

The fo­cus on di­ver­sity drew alarm from Wil­liam Briggs, an ad­junct statis­tics pro­fes­sor at Cor­nell Univer­sity, who said, “It seems or­ga­niz­ers be­lieve sci­en­tific results are less im­por­tant than who is pro­duc­ing them. Di­ver­sity trumps sci­ence.”

“They in­sist on di­ver­sity. That means rig­or­ous, manda­tory and mon­i­tored bal­ance between peo­ple from fa­vored groups,” Mr. Briggs said in the Stream. “This is not a sci­en­tific con­cept. It is pure pol­i­tics. And anti-sci­en­tific pol­i­tics, at that.”

Zu­leyka Ze­val­los, a so­ci­ol­o­gist and ad­junct re­search fel­low with Swin­burne Univer­sity in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, chron­i­cled the march’s heated back-and-forth over di­ver­sity, which in­cluded four rewrit­ten di­ver­sity state­ments as or­ga­niz­ers re­acted to crit­i­cism from both sides.

In a Jan. 28 tweet, the March for Sci­ence posted a tweet say­ing “col­o­niza­tion, racism, im­mi­gra­tion, na­tive rights, sex­ism, ableism, queer-, trans-, in­ter­sex-phobia, & econ jus­tice are sci­en­tific is­sues,” but later re­moved it, Ms. Ze­val­los re­ported.

Among those who crit­i­cized the post was Har­vard pro­fes­sor Steven Pinker, who ac­cused or­ga­niz­ers of com­pro­mis­ing its goals with “anti-sci­ence PC/ iden­tity pol­i­tics/hard-left rhetoric.”

“The con­stant flip-flops on its di­ver­sity stance sug­gest that, at best, the or­ga­niz­ers are un­de­cided or lack the skills on how to man­age in­clu­sion is­sues,” Ms. Ze­val­los said in a March 14 post on Latino Rebels. “At worst, it gives the un­for­tu­nate im­pres­sion that they have a wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to di­ver­sity, one which bends to the shifts of pub­lic pres­sure.”

At the heart of the de­bate is that or­ga­niz­ers are con­flat­ing sci­ence, which is a method, with a host of pub­lic pol­icy is­sues, said Mr. Smith.

“The prob­lem now is that many who claim to be about sci­ence are re­ally about so­cial pol­icy and ide­ol­ogy,”

HON­ORARY CO-CHAIR­MAN: Bill Nye, the Sci­ence Guy’s prom­i­nent role in the March for Sci­ence has ig­nit­ing a fu­ri­ous de­bate on race, gen­der and “priv­i­lege.”

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